With Support From Communityworks, PlanItGreen Unveils Sustainability Plan for Oak Park & River Forest
Hailing it as the only joint, two-community plan of its kinds in Illinois, civic and environmental leaders from Oak Park and River Forest on June 23 unveiled PlanItGreen: The Environmental Sustainability Plan for Oak Park and River Forest.
It’s only fitting that the Pleasant Home—headquarters for The Historical Society of Oak Park & River Forest—hosted the occasion because PlanItGreen represents a significant milestone.
“To my knowledge, there is not a single sustainability plan, certainly in the Chicago area, in Illinois--maybe in the Midwest, maybe across the country—that is a dual-community plan,” said Gary Cuneen, executive director of Seven Generations Ahead. “So that’s, I think, a remarkable achievement for both communities.”
PlanItGreen is a project of Communityworks, a community partnership supported by the Oak Park River Forest Community Foundation. The Foundation’s executive director, Sophia Lloyd, was among those who addressed the 75 who gathered on the front porch and lawn of the Prairie Style house museum at 217 Home Ave.
“As a foundation we’re committed to stewarding this community toward sustainability and well-being,” Lloyd said, adding that environmental sustainability is “one piece of a sustainable community.”
Seven Generations Ahead, an Oak Park-based not-for-profit organization whose mission is to promote ecologically sustainable and healthy communities, was commissioned by Communityworks to develop the extensive report.
The Delta Institute also helped prepared the document, which capped a yearlong process in which nearly 900 residents provided their input in a survey, as did numerous others in meetings throughout both communities. In the end, nine sustainability topic areas were identified: education, energy, waste, water, community development, transportation, green economic development, open space and ecosystem preservation, and food.
For each category, organizers have developed strategies to attain goals, as well as six “actors” that will play key roles along the way: business, government, household, institution, community and student.
Some examples of the plan in action: helping make public transit “cool,” building an educational garden at Dominican University, requiring recycling at multi-family residences and increasing car sharing.
The next phase of the project will include strategy implementation across institutions and sectors, collaborative project and grant proposal development, and development of a report card structure and subsequent data aggregation to measure progress on key goals and indicators.
“We don’t get too many shots at efforts like this, and I think we need to take a big swing moving forward and really show other communities that we’re serious about this,” Cuneen said. “It’s going to be environmentally responsible and economically viable and together we can make it happen.”
Oak Park Village President David Pope likened the plan’s example-setting potential to the leadership that the village has displayed in fostering diversity over the past 40-plus years. The communities’ example can help spark other municipalities to follow suit and “collectively we can do things” across the world that Oak Park and River Forest could never do on their own, he said.
He also noted that much of the impact will flow from “stuff that’s hidden,” such as insulating homes. Leaders should focus more on those efforts than feel-good, more visible steps that have less effect.
“If we care more about having an impact than we do about cutting ribbons and getting pictures in the paper, we’re all going to be better off,” Pope said.
Isabel Monaghan and Emma Johnson, co-presidents of the Environmental Club at Oak Park-River Forest High School, attended the event to meet community leaders and learn about available and emerging resources.
“I think kids our age are really excited about the environment,” Monaghan said. “Hopefully, the high school can get involved more.”
Eric Palm, River Forest Village Administrator, applauded the collaboration.
He noted the “new normal” that has emerged in the economy in recent years, as well as the economic benefits that are projected in the plan: “I don’t care what community you’re in, saving money is important to any taxpayer in any town.”
Boyd McDowell, immediate past president of the OPRF Community Foundation, was invited to speak as well. He encouraged individuals to donate to the Communityworks endowment fund.
Supported by the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, Communityworks is a community driven partnership working toward envisioning and creating a sustainable Oak Park and River Forest community.
Currently, funding focus is on the success of all youth through quality education, building an environmentally healthy community, and developing tomorrow's community leaders today. Every dollar contributed, up to $2 million, will be matched by the Grand Victoria Foundation through Sept. 30, 2011.
“I’m starting to think that every dollar that we don’t get as we approach the two million dollars is two dollars lost….Where else can you get a 100 percent return on your investment?” McDowell said. “Let’s not let this unprecedented opportunity pass us by.”
The PlanItGreen plan can be found online at www.sevengenerationsahead.org/index.php/programs/planitgreen/
To learn more about Communityworks or the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, visit www.oprfcf.org/ or contact (708) 848-1560.